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Waffen-SS Early History

After release from prison Hitler decided that he needed a paramilitary group to protect him personally. That group should be steadfastly faithful and loyal to him alone; not least to protect him from possible SA intrigues. Therefore Hitler established a personal bodyguard in his hometown München (Munich). Initially this group numbered only ten men with one officer. It was first called "Stoßtruppe Hitler" (Shock Troops Hitler). Again the title derived from divisional assaults groups from World War I. Later it was renamed "Schutz Staffel" (SS or Protection Squad).

Hitler placed the SS under SA command and arranged for similar SS groups in a number of other cities in which he was to appear. Each recruit was chosen for fitness, abstemiousness and lack of criminal record and swore allegiance to Hitler himself rather than to the Nazi Party. In early 1929, the previously unknown Heinrich Himmler took over the leadership of the SS. In the early 1930s, the SA questioned Hitler's leadership, while the SS remained loyal. As a reward the SS became the Nazi Party's primarily security force. By 1932 the SS had some 30,000 men, and the SA now had some 400,000 members, while the German Army only had 100,000 soldiers due to the Treaty of Versailles. Most Army generals flirted with the Nazi's, but distrusted the SA as an armed force for defense of the nation. Nevertheless, SA membership in 1933 topped 3,000,000.

The reason for this expansion was threefold. First, the German economy was in a depression at the time. Second, Röhm successfully incorporated national servicemen leagues, such as the "Stahlhelm," into the SA. Third, many Germans decided to jump on the Nazi train before it was too late. Many Germans were frustrated and the SA gave them a voice against the comfortable established and ruling middle class.

Shortly after Hitler became chancellor and commander-in-chief of the German Army in 1934, Röhm declared the SA solely the true army of National Socialism. The German Army was to be transformed into a training organization. Röhm feared that Hitler became favorably disposed towards the traditional power groups in Germany at the time: the Army, aristocracy, and industrial and financial magnates. There is no evidence that Röhm ever seriously intended to lead a coup against Hitler. Nevertheless, in reaction Hitler soughtto settle this problem and sent the entire SA organization home for leave. The SA leadership was killed within three days by Himmler's SS troops. This "Nacht der langen Messer" ("night of the long knives") destroyed the SA organization and afterwards the SS became an independent organization within the Nazi Party. Six days later all the officers and men in the German Army were forced to swear a new personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler.

In March 1935 Hitler renounced the Treaty of Versailles and announced the expansion of the German Army and the formation of the SS Verfügungstruppen (SS VT or SS special purpose troops) as the core of a full military division. This unit was financed by the police budget to counter any Army fears. The formation of the SS Verfügungstruppen was the birth of the Waffen-SS and this threatened the German Army. They saw in the Waffen-SS a competitor. Hitler's reason for expanding the armed SS units was to help militarize German society and to create unswervingly loyal and obedient troops for himself. Hitler never trusted high-ranking officers in the German Army, because most of them were representatives of the old German and Prussian establishment.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:41 ZULU